Affective Autotutor, Emotion-Sensing Teaching Software
Affective Autotutor is emotion-sensing computer software that improves on other teaching software by responding to the cognitive and emotional states of students. The new tutorial software was developed by researchers at University of Notre Dame, University of Memphis, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Most of the 20th-century systems required humans to communicate with computers through windows, icons, menus, and pointing devices,” says D’Mello, who specializes in human-computer interaction and artificial intelligence in education. “But humans have always communicated with each other through speech and a host of nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions, eye contact, posture, and gesture. In addition to enhancing the content of the message, the new technology provides information regarding the cognitive states, motivation levels, and social dynamics of the students.”
AutoTutor is an Intelligent Tutoring System (ITS) that helps students learn complex technical content in Newtonian physics, computer literacy, and critical thinking by holding a conversation in natural language. It simulates the teaching and motivational strategies of human tutors, modeling students’ cognitive states and then tailoring the interaction to individual students. It also keeps students engaged with images, animations, and simulations.
Affective AutoTutor adds emotion-sensitive capabilities by monitoring facial features, body language, and conversational cues, the researchers said, explaining it then “regulates” negative states such as frustration and boredom and “synthesizes emotions via the content of its verbal responses, speech intonation, and facial expressions of an animated teacher.”
In tests, AutoTutor produces improvements of one letter grade, on average, outperforming most human tutors - nearly reaching the mark achieved by expert human tutors.
SF fans have watched writers testing the educational waters with similar concepts. Consider the mechanical teacher from Isaac Asimov's 1951 story The Fun They Had:
Margie went into the classroom. It was right next to her bedroom, and the mechanical teacher was on and waiting for her...
The screen was lit up, and it said: "Today's arithmetic lesson is on the addition of proper fractions. Please insert yesterday's homework in the proper slot."
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